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Opinion | The BCA mess isn’t difficult to unravel

Josh Moon

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It’s been a rough week for the Business Council of Alabama.

The top lobbyist group in the state has been decimated by big-name defections. It started with Alabama Power and PowerSouth. Then Regions Bank. Then Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. And now Protective Life Insurance. And there are strong rumors that Drummond Coal and Thompson Caterpillar are soon to follow.

All of those companies mentioned have expressed concerns — either while announcing their departure or while threatening to leave — over BCA CEO Bill Canary.

They felt Canary wasn’t getting the job done. They wanted him out. They wanted him out now.

The BCA board, led by Perry Hand, tried to block that. For reasons that are both dumb and seemingly personally beneficial to Hand and his company, Volkert Construction.

And now there is debate in political circles over who’s right, who’s wrong and what it all means.

On the first two, there should be no debate. And anyone who is honest and who has spent an hour around the State House over the last two years knows it.

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Alabama Power and these other major companies didn’t randomly decide one day that they didn’t like Canary’s suits and wanted him fired. They took a look at the scoreboard. And it clearly showed that Canary was getting killed.

And by that, I mean he had lost his influence in the State House. Most of it he squandered away by using too much stick and not enough carrot when dealing with lawmakers. He tried to bully his way around and such tactics quickly wear thin among grown people.

The companies contributing dues to the BCA do so for one purpose: for that organization to promote their best interest and help push business-friendly ideas in the state Legislature.

That’s the primary benefit of the BCA’s existence.

If the guy the BCA is paying big dollars to push that agenda is so disliked that state lawmakers are voting against BCA-backed legislation just to spite him, that’s what we call a gots-to-go situation.

That was 100-percent taking place with Canary in the State House.

Two years ago, the BCA was shut out on its top-priority bills. This past session, they got one — an unpopular weakening of state ethics laws that likely cost several lawmakers their seats — and lost their biggest.

Privately, Republican lawmakers, who once happily strolled into the building and voted for anything BCA sponsored, were so disenchanted with Canary and BCA that they told me they would vote against anything the organization backed. They were tired of being threatened, they said. And they were tired of Canary telling them what to do instead of working with them.

If you’re Alabama Power or Regions Bank or BCBS, and you’re dumping six figures annually into this association in order to promote your interests at the State House, you can’t have that.

And it’s that simple.

What’s hilarious to me is that there’s now this narrative being pushed on paid political blogs and in paid-for newspaper columns that somehow APCO and these other defecting businesses were too liberal and didn’t share the conservative, pro-business goals of Hand and the BCA.

Lord have mercy. I think I know liberal when I see it. And trust me, APCO, Regions and BCBS ain’t it.

Even if they pushed former Democratic House Speaker Seth Hammett to be the new BCA CEO. That decision, too, boiled down to simple business.

Hammett is the anti-Canary. He’s nice, well respected, well liked and doesn’t even own a stick. Basically, exactly the sort of change the organization needed.

But that’s a moot point now, I suppose. What’s left to consider is where things go from here, and it seems that other BCA defections offer some indication of the future plans.

In addition to top companies, board member Mike Kemp and legal counsel Fournier “Boots” Gale also resigned from BCA this week. Kemp was the chairperson of BCA’s political action committee, PROGRESSPAC.

If the departing companies intended to start a new lobbying group, or join an existing one, those specific members would be fairly important.

Whether that’s the case or not, certainly no one believes that APCO, Regions and BCBS are going to stop pushing their legislative agendas and backing bills that aid their companies and the state’s business climate.

Because just like with the push to remove Canary, the bottom line for them is money.

 

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